The Lifeline of Mumbai giving a lifetime of experiences – Some sweet, some sour!


The Daily routine

It was late in the evening, today was a windy day which is rare in Mumbai. I was going towards Borivali on a local train. If you travel regularly you understand what we are heading to… I boarded at Andheri and then there were so many samples of god’s weirdest creation as intimate as I may have never even been with a beautiful girl and that too with no choice but to suffer the intimacy, yes there were humans all around, some decent, some indecent, some pushing me, some massaging a body part of mine, some breathing right near my face, one dozing off time and again on me, yes technically speaking a man slept with me today!

All this happens in the Mumbai local that too in the First-class compartment, imagine the plight in the second-class. And then I recollected all of those memories and experiences with the local trains I have ever had, starting from the first time I ever travelled in it. Not to boast off but I always belonged to a well-to-do family and dad never took us to travel in a local. Even if we had to travel from Andheri to Marine lines, it was in a car or a taxi and trust me as a kid I loved those late-night taxi rides, always curious to know how that gear system of a fiat car worked as it differed from other cars. To me, the taxi driver uncle was a genius as at any speed he would shift the gear the same way every time with full swag and the car would manage itself to run correctly. Soon these fun rides ended… no, we did not become poor, it was just that I grew up and started going to college.

School was just a ten-minute walk from home and my dear college (Mithibai) was also just one station away but was luckily situated away from the Vile Parle railway station and so I yet again avoided the local trains and chose BEST bus or an auto rickshaw. Soon I turned eighteen and started driving to college but I was banned from doing so later as our car got towed twice, Maruti cars are RTO’s favourite and I was thrown back to that 253 number bus which had a specific bus stop named after our college… we were all proud of that more than our academic performances back then.

During that time, I joined an internship which made me travel all the way to Marine Lines and this time I couldn’t afford to go by road, not for the money but for the time it takes as compared to the trains, and that ‘never reaching on time’ habit of mine which has now almost become a part of my personality. So I travelled in local trains that too in the mornings towards Churchgate and evenings back taking a train towards Borivali. And if you have ever been on this route at these timings, you would know how I felt.

My first solo journey in a Mumbai Local

This was the first time I experienced the phenomenon termed as ‘struggle’ in life. I travelled in the second-class for almost six months and Dad never revealed that I did have a choice to get a pass for the first-class. I thought it would be too expensive while dad himself always had a three-monthly first-class pass from Borivali to Churchgate even though he travelled daily from Andheri to Jogeshwari (just one station away) and other places only once a week. I still feel he did that on purpose probably to teach me humility cause when you travel in the second-class you know what shortage means, what poverty means, what adjustment means, those four to five people sitting on a three-seater by shamelessly asking the person to shift a bit, almost hanging half of their ass in the air… and those unnecessary pushes, yes even if the compartment is quite empty, they are so used to the pushing that they will do so while getting down even when it’s not needed.

You also witness amusing situations like small kids enjoying themselves despite stuck in crowded trains and befriending random people with that one cute smile, strangers having random discussions about life, politics, movies, cricket and what not… friends discussing their office or college life, their problems, their jokes, their funny incidents of life, etc.

Marketing classes anyone?

These trains also teach you salesmanship, yes you heard that I mean read that right… I learnt the best of it from those poorest and unsuccessful people who come to sell random stuff like wallets, earphones, hair combs and clips and even railway pass covers which actually have the logo of Air India (Wonder how?). You must see how in such a crowded train, with people tired of pushes and the famous hot & humid climate of Mumbai, these guys enter with full confidence, start a pitch to the best they can, quote a price which is least as compared to any markets in Mumbai, give a live demo, give options to the potential customers, convince them and sell it, collect money and get off by the time the next station arrives. Ever seen a better salesman than that! Go to the best of air-conditioned showrooms offering you world-famous brands, a double graduate sales executive, offering you tea, coffee and yet fail to convince you to buy something despite your need which brought you there unlike in a train where you never expected nor intended to buy that thing at that point in time but you did.

Talking of forced salesmanship there is something else which is more intriguing and well-accepted in those second-class compartments… that bhajan mandalis. You might have noticed at times you feel some Satsang type noises from a passing train in the evening especially the sound of someone banging on the compartment & manjeera being played. There are these people who sing bhajan and old Hindi film songs in a moving train that too during rush hours and other people are just okay with it. That is the spirit of Mumbaikars travelling in the local trains.

Le Camaraderie

A similar sight would be in a train that starts its journey from Churchgate where a group of men, especially Gujarati businessmen or share market brokers shall keep their briefcases and play cards in those empty trains. Probably games like Rummy, mendikot or poker… also a common sight these days is people watching movies downloaded through torrents in their mobile and several others secretly peeping in those screens to guess the name of the movie (Indians after all). I saw a lot of fights yet unity in those second-class compartments of the Mumbai local, sometimes helplessness helps you to learn a lot.

These journeys teach you how difficult it is to get your own space in life, you struggle not just to sit, but also to stand, and sometimes even to find a place to keep your foot after raising it in the air cause you have no part of ground left. Mumbai always has a shortage of space and we all either adjust or pay a higher price for it. So I chose the latter one, I started travelling in the First-class compartment…

The First-class Experience

I suddenly felt like I lived in a civilized society! There were rules and people followed it unlike other places in India, only three people sit on the couch despite space for a fourth one, try to keep a distance from one another physically, people follow a discipline in getting in and getting down from the train, most of them are well-dressed and well-behaved with the ‘pehle aap tehzeeb’ instead of pushing randomly for no reason, they quietly stand and wait for people to get off before getting in, they don’t run to catch a seat unless it is the first-class compartment of a Virar local. What a place to be! I exclaimed when I first got into it. The coaches had foam and were comfortable, people were reading the newspaper and having discussions here too but of some intellectual kind of stuff, there were no arguments but rational debates if there were a difference of opinion. I went home and discussed it with mom to which she smiled knowing my na├»ve approach during my teens and the fact that I went in the second-class for six months like a fool owing to my lack of knowledge (Probably she was involved in the plan of teaching me humility!).

And I started enjoying those train journeys. This was a different place… people smile with a hello if you are seen on a daily basis. I enjoyed all of it and these things still make it manageable to travel till date. Well, they weren’t as warm as the second-class people were. Some are arrogant, some snooty, some feel nobody should touch them without realising that the other person isn’t interested in it either & is helpless, some do become self-proclaimed TCs and predict for people (especially teens) who travel without a first-class ticket and a common dialogue heard is “Ye first-class hai!”

The problems we face

And indeed some common problems don’t end here too. Firstly the indicators may misguide or may not work at times, the trains are always late with the only good part being you never missed the 11:15 train even though you reached the platform at 11:23 and boarded finally at 11:26. You are already late and your train stops at a signal when you are helplessly standing and manage to hold a handle somehow to maintain your inertia. And those disturbing announcements that ruin your favourite romantic number giving you warnings to save your life, notify you the next station that too in three different languages… unlike olden times when we by-hearted the order of stations and counted when our respective station came or ask someone which station comes next.

During such annoying journeys the headphones become your best friends, you may play a song to avoid other people’s voices completely while sometimes you may pause them if you find someone’s conversation more interesting and keep the headphone on so that you can eavesdrop without the other person getting a hint of it and you can look straight at him.

A race to win

I still travel daily now to my office being a self-employed person and recently had one run with another man who was in his mid-thirties. We ran from the railway bridge as we saw the train heading towards the platform. This was after 9:30 when the frequency is less and so we both didn’t want to miss it. He was exactly running behind me trying his level best just like me. The train had already reached the platform while we were halfway the staircase and a whole chunk of people going opposite to our direction, we struggled and for a second had lost hope in our minds to catch this one but our legs kept trying and we pushed our bodies further, the train honked and we were sure that it would start and we continued running in full force, I made it and he climbed right after me entering in the nick of time as the train got momentum… we were successful in our little race against time, where we were complete strangers but had a common goal, we were both sincerely trying our level best and we won the race. That sense of accomplishment for that one second really taught us that we should never lose hope. The man immediately looked at me and we had a smile at the same time which was like a victory smile of ‘We made it, bro!’ feeling as if we climbed a Mount Everest & felt like we achieved something next to impossible.

Some common indicators

When you travel through western railway, there are some common indicators that help you guess the station before the announcements. If you get the aroma of freshly baked Parle-G biscuits you are heading to Vile Parle, if you see commuters joining hands towards the west, your next station is Mahalaxmi and if you smell cosmetics, you have reached the platform of Bandra. That also reminds the ladies special train where again you need not see it written as the smell from the train slowing down at the platform makes you realise that it’s a ladies special.

Sunday’s are special!

Sundays are special here too… you may travel during rush hours and find the compartments empty, nicely stretching your legs on the seat and enjoying the calm atmosphere as there are less of humans to disturb you by talking on phone calls. Sunday is like a holiday in all senses including train journeys and the train also feels lazy to move fast as it knows no one needs to reach on time today, they are going for an outing and not the office and takes full liberty of it with Mega blocks and less frequency of trains. On this day, you see more of families and less of office professionals actually. People like me do travel for work on Sundays too but in casuals thus syncing with the ambience of a holiday.

And it’s like the cycle of life…

And soon Monday comes back with the same routine and much more humans in quantity and quality. Well, there are ample of experiences that I enjoy and many more that I wish to share but I still wish I could avoid these daily journeys and rather do it once in a while just to gain a new experience or rather a new memory. Probably that would be possible at retirement for most of us Mumbaikars as they rightly say this is the lifeline of Mumbai. Travelling by roads is even more awful and has much more uncertainty thus keeping the local trains the best possible travel option. It has now become a part of the daily routine of a Mumbaikar who finds dominance in compromises and friends in strangers as he does in other walks of life to reach nowhere in reality and lives the life of a struggle that starts with the local train and ends with another journey heading back home!

Photo credit: <a href=””>zoxcleb</a> on <a href=””>Visualhunt</a> / <a href=””> CC BY-SA</a>

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